Post the border clashes, India and China are striving to create a robust influence in Africa through humanitarian aid and investments. However, with the countries adopting different outreach strategies, analysts suggest that competition between India and China is unnecessary as there is room for both to make their presence felt.
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According to Maria Siow, a China-based journalist and analyst, India’s renewed focus on Africa is a result of China’s growing footprint on the continent, not just in terms of trade and commerce, but also Beijing’s rising maritime interests.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative aims at connecting Asia with Africa and Europe through land and maritime routes which would enable regional integration and growth in trade and commerce.
Recently, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during a press conference that a total of 44 African countries and the African Union Commission have signed cooperation documents with China on the Belt and Road initiative.
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“It is a vote of confidence in China-Africa cooperation from our African brothers,” he added.
India sees this initiative as an effort by China to flex its economic muscle and extend the reach of its influence. “However, India’s engagement with Africa is not limited to trade and commerce.
The Indian diaspora, for instance, has been a major force in several African nations’ pursuit of prosperity and political participation,” said Swaran Singh, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of International Studies.
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India and China stand far apart in terms of the size of their economies. India’s US$2.7 trillion versus China’s US$14 trillion which acts as a roadblock for New Delhi to make further inroads in African nations.
According to United Nations trade data, 39 African countries imported more than US$71 billion worth of goods from China in 2017 and only US$21 billion from India.
“African governments are therefore aware that in spite of their rapprochement with India, China remains the most important – and at the government level, the most trusted – development and investment partner on the continent,” said Lin Minwang, the deputy director of Fudan University’s Institute for South Asian Studies.
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Nevertheless, India has not made huge loans to African countries and thus avoided being a major part of the serious debt problems facing by many African countries today.
However, it is expected that India’s investment in Africa will become more valuable especially in Africa’s health care and pharmaceutical sectors. Sizeable investments have already been made in oil and gas, mining, banking, pharma, textiles and other sectors in African countries under the strategic initiative, “Focus Africa” by the Government of India launched in 2002.
Zhang Yongpeng, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of West Asian and African Studies noted that even though India posed a challenge to China’s strategy in Africa, for instance in bidding for commercial projects, the economic threats were not daunting for now.
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African nations are unwilling to choose between China and India because of the accruing benefits and investments from both nations. Also, the African governments are avoiding being dragged in conflicts, especially during the ongoing trade and diplomatic tensions between the US and China and the border tensions between India and China.
“India tends to have largely positive perceptions as a fellow Global South democracy. China can sometimes be more controversial, for example, due to the recent ill-treatment of Africans in Guangzhou,” stated Cobus van Staden, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs.